Maya Lin: Biography, Artwork & the Vietnam Memorial

Instructor: Kevin Newton

Kevin has edited encyclopedias, taught middle and high school history, and has a master's degree in Islamic law.

By age 21, Maya Lin had already achieved an architectural honor that few ever receive when her design was selected for the Vietnam Veteran's Memorial to be built on the National Mall. Since then, she has enjoyed a successful career, but more than a few detractors.

Who is Maya Lin?

Maya Lin was born in 1959 in Athens, Ohio, to Chinese immigrants who had fled the Communist takeover of their country. Artistic talent is considerable in her family: Lin's father would eventually lead Ohio University's College of Fine Arts, and her aunt was a renowned Chinese architect.

Given this background, it is understandable that Lin spent a good deal of time in the workshop, growing more comfortable with the design and form of a variety of materials. Lin also relates that she was intently focused on her work, going as far to describe herself as 'introverted.'

With such focus, it is little surprise that Lin was accepted to Yale University, where her talents for the arts flourished. She graduated in 1981, but it was five years until she gained her master's degree in architecture. What happened in the intervening years was cause for her to not only delay her graduate degree, but also earn an honorary doctorate from Yale in 1987, as well as several other universities in the years to come.

Vietnam Veteran's Memorial

Less than five years after the end of the conflict, authorization for a Vietnam Veteran's Memorial was given by Congress, along with space on the National Mall in Washington, D.C. The selection process was blind, with each entry assigned a number to separate it from the prominence of its architect. Out of almost 1,500 bids, Maya Lin's understated wall with the names of more than 58,000 killed and missing was selected by the jury as the winner.

Submission for Vietnam Veterans Memorial by Maya Lin
Submission for Memorial by Maya Lin

Almost immediately, outrage began that such a young designer's work had been chosen, moving Lin herself to state that had the process not been blind that she does not believe her work was enough to carry the design past the prestige of some architects' entries. Moreover, a number of groups were uncomfortable with the fact that an Asian-American, and a Chinese-American at that, would have her work identified with the war (as China had supported the North Vietnamese throughout the conflict).

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